Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has been handed a top trade role with the UK government, it has been confirmed.
Previous speculation that Mr Abbott might be given the role caused an outcry over concerns that his views about women and gay people made him unfit to represent the United Kingdom.
Boris Johnson defended the right-winger’s appointment on Friday, saying he had been elected by a “liberal country”, referring to Australia.
“I don’t, obviously don’t agree with those sentiments at all, but then I don’t agree with everyone who serves the government in an unpaid capacity on hundreds of boards across the country,” the prime minister said.
“And I can’t be expected to do so. What I would say about Tony Abbott is this is a guy who was elected by the people of the great liberal democratic nation of Australia.
“It’s an amazing country, it’s a freedom-loving country, it’s a liberal country. There you go, I think that speaks for itself.”
Liz Truss, the secretary of state for international trade, said: “The new Board of Trade will play an important role in helping Britain make the case for free and fair trade across the UK and around the world.”
Mr Abbott previously said he felt “a bit threatened” by homosexuality and campaigned against same-sex marriage. He has also been accused of misogyny by fellow former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard.
Shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry said it was “the wrong appointment on every level.”
“First, his history of offensive statements is so long and repetitive that it speaks to serious defects in his character, which is not one I think should be representing Britain on the world stage.
“And second, the fact that he has no experience of detailed trade negotiations, no understanding of Brexit, no belief in climate change, no concern for workers’ rights, and no compunction about killing off Australia’s car industry mean, to my mind, that he has no credentials for this role.”
Shadow justice secretary David Lammy tweeted: “Earlier in the week the government as much as admitted Tony Abbott is a homophobe and a misogynist. They just don’t care.’’
Prominent LGBT+ figures including Sir Ian McKellen and Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies have signed an open letter asking the government to reconsider his appointment.
Environmental activists have also pointed to Mr Abbott’s poor understanding of the climate emergency, which he previously said was “probably doing good” in order to justify policy inaction. Climate policy is a major part of modern trade deals.
Mr Abbott served as the 28th prime minister of Australia from 2013 to 2015 before being ousted by his rival Malcolm Turnbull.
He lost his supposedly safe seat in Australia’s parliament to an independent candidate at the 2019 election, leaving him available for new employment.
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